JUSTICE: LOSS OF PUBLIC CONFIDENCE – LAWYERS ALONE NOT TO BLAME (4)
“I have referred to all these examples to show the role played by clients themselves in contributing to the malaise affecting our justice delivery system. The win at all costs attitude encourages many to employ all manner of unscrupulous means to achieve their own ends without reference to the lawyer”.
Over the past couple of weeks I have highlighted why I remain of the view that Lawyers and Judges have been unfairly singled out as the cause of the loss of public confidence in the Justice delivery system in Nigeria. I have already stated how Lawyers and Judges are “hamstrung” by the facts presented to them by their clients and litigants respectively and how the insistence of Lawyers on due process of the law may sometimes be misinterpreted as being responsible for delays in the hearing of cases in Court. This week I want to draw attention to what I will, not for want of a better phrase, refer to as the Nigerian or human factor in the administration of Justice System in Nigeria.
EROSION OF SOCIETAL ETHICS AND ITS EFFECTS ON ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE
Every society is defined largely by the ethics which overtime have been accepted by its people. I am not here concerned with a scholastic definition of ethics. I am for the purpose of the subject of this discussion concerned with those values such as selflessness, honesty, hard-work, humility etc which are meant to guide members of virtually all societies in their everyday lives and which as I have said earlier ultimately define that society. Nigeria is no exception to this concept. Given my age I can say that I have experienced life in Nigeria at almost every pivotal aspect of its development as a Nation. I can therefore attest to the fact at the very beginning, Nigerians largely epitomized the best of virtues and that perhaps the same can still be said even today of the vast majority of Nigerians who daily strive to eke a living through various honest endeavors.
However it cannot be denied that just like every aspect of human existence, our values have been eroded by numerous factors the most prominent being the attitude “of anything goes” by which many have come to believe that just about anything can be achieved in Nigeria by less than honest or honourable means with great assurance that there will be no attendant legal consequences. This can be seen in most aspects of our national life and a prominent example was the last collapse of some banks owing to large scale mismanagement and corrupt practices. Unfortunately this attitude extends even to judicial proceedings in numerous forms such as bribery, threats of violence and even actual violence. As I did two weeks ago, I will refer to some personal experiences.
Some decades ago, I was involved in a prominent case at Ila-Orangun. Given the proximity of the place to Osogbo, I decided to pass the night on some occasions in Osogbo before proceeding to Court the following day. On one of such nights I was informed by the Hotel Manager that I had some visitors who turned out to be the opponents of my clients in the matter in Court. Not only was their visit to me strange, but stranger still was the fact that they came with a bag filled with currency which they offered to me to secure my “assistance” in the case as according to them they were worried at the turn the case was taking in Court. I rejected their offer and asked the Hotel Manager to summon the Police to have them arrested. After much pleadings, I allowed them to leave with their bag of money. The following morning I was surprised to meet a huge party made up of supporters of my client at the outskirts of the town who were jubilating that the other side were unable to bribe me!
Some years later I was involved in another land matter which in those days were a veritable source of revenue for lawyers. At the time of briefing my client asked to know what I would do to ensure that he did not lose the case. I assured him that I would do my best within the confines of the law to secure his interest. His response was “What if the parties on the other side all die?” I dismissed this question as nothing more than the misguided comments of man frustrated at having to litigate over something that he felt was rightfully his. I turned out to be wrong. Not too long after the matter began, the Principal party on the other side died. When another member of the family of the deceased party was brought in to substitute him, he too died not too long after. A third member of the family brought in again after that also died! After this third death, even the Judge began to ask questions and eventually the matter was abandoned as all parties became wary of the seeming fixation of death on the parties.
In more recent times I was briefed by a prominent Politician to represent him in a matter which threatened to cut short his then just blossoming Political career. He told me expressly that he just needed my clout by putting up an appearance for him in court as according to him he had already been assured of victory by the Judge in charge of the case. This experience is similar to one in which a well-known society figure had falsely obtained hundreds of thousands of dollars from a former member of the last military regime on the premise that I requested for the said amount as my fees for representing him. Not only had I not met with him, I had also never discussed with anybody, the possibility of representing the retired military official.
In another recent development, a court registrar was convicted of soliciting and receiving bribes from an accused person standing trial before the Court to which she was assigned as Registrar. She had deceived the accused person into believing that the Judge had requested the bribe. Luckily for the Judge, who incidentally was and is still acknowledged today as one of the shining lights of the Judiciary, nothing was found even remotely suggesting that he had knowledge of or had approved of the scheme of his Registrar.
I have referred to all these examples to show the role played by clients themselves in contributing to the malaise affecting our justice delivery system. The win at all costs attitude encourages many to employ all manner of unscrupulous means to achieve their own ends without reference to the lawyer. A situation in which litigants believe that bribery of the opposing lawyer or the Judge is the way out is not one that will augur well for anyone. Sadly it is attempts like this that fuel the insinuations or unfounded allegations that some Judges had been bribed. It is for example not impossible that the accused person who gave money to the Court Registrar would have confided in some confidants that he had already bribed the Judge who as stated earlier was totally in the dark about the criminal conduct of his registrar.
Thus before laying the blame entirely at the doorsteps of Lawyers and Judges, a society must firstly undertake a scrutiny of which or what values are still held dear or sacrosanct by its members. Like a popular musician once sang: “If you want to change the world, take a look at yourself and make that change!”
To be continued.
AARE AFE BABALOLA SAN, CON